WASHINGTON (AP) — John Kerry accused presidential rival Howard Dean Friday of taking positions on gun safety that put the interests of the National Rifle Association ahead of the safety of children and families.
Kerry, a Massachusetts senator, criticized Dean’s 1992 statement to the National Rifle Association that he opposed any restriction on private ownership of assault weapons.
“Howard Dean’s opposition to sensible gun safety measures … is indefensible,” Kerry said in a statement. “It explains why he has been endorsed by the NRA eight times. I believe we must put the safety of our children and families ahead of special interests like the NRA.”
Kerry said he would “never pander to the extremist NRA for personal or political expediency. I will beat the NRA.”
Dean said Friday in Durham, New Hampshire: “I don’t respond to that silly kind of Washington talk.”
“I come from a rural state with a very low homicide rate,” Dean told reporters. “We had five homicides one year. It’s a state where hunting is a part of our life. I understand that’s not the traditional Democratic position.”
Dean said “when you’re running for governor, they ask you what you would do in your state.”
Dean aides told The New York Times for a Friday story that the opposition to restrictions on assault weapons that he expressed on the signed 1992 NRA questionnaire applied only to a state ban, defined broadly enough to also apply to shotguns commonly used by hunters in Vermont.
Dean assures voters on the campaign trail this year that he supports the federal assaults weapons ban enacted under President Bill Clinton in 1994.
While many Democratic primary voters support federal restrictions on gun ownership, there is less support for those restrictions among swing voters and Democrats in conservative states. Democratic nominee Al Gore lost several states in 2000 where gun control is not popular.
Centrist Democrats have warned that the party’s candidates need to adopt a stance that recognizes the rights of gun owners, while pushing for gun safety laws. They warn that candidates who are aggressive in challenging gun owners without also defending their right to own a gun will be at a substantial disadvantage in rural and conservative states.
CNN should have added “and misses by a country mile” to the headline for the above story. Here is Governor Dean’s position on guns, taken directly from the official campaign website:
Vermont has one of the lowest homicide rates in the United States. During my 11 years as Governor, the highest number of murders in a single year was 25 and the lowest number was five. Over half of these were domestic assaults, and the majority were not committed with a firearm.
If you say “gun control” in Vermont or Wyoming, people think it means taking away their hunting rifle. If you say “gun control” in New York City or Los Angeles, people are relieved at the prospect of having Uzis or illegal handguns taken off the streets. They’re both right. That’s why I think Vermont ought to be able to have a different set of laws than California.
I believe the federal gun laws we have — like the Brady Bill — are important, and I would veto any attempt to repeal or gut them. The Assault Weapons Ban expires next year, and it should be renewed. Although President Bush has claimed he supports renewing it, he is talking out both sides of his mouth; his staff has signaled that he doesn’t want or expect Congress to renew the ban, and that is wrong.
I don’t think we need a lot of new federal laws. But we do need to do a few things at the federal level, like requiring Insta-Check on all retail and gun show sales. We also must do a better job of enforcing the laws on the books. President Bush promised to be tough in enforcing gun laws, but his Administration has prosecuted only about 2% of all gun crimes and they are virtually ignoring 20 of the 22 major federal gun laws on the books. That is an abysmal record, and as President, I’d make tough enforcement a reality, not just political rhetoric.
After that, I would let the states decide for themselves what, if any, additional gun safety laws they want. Just as we resist attempts by President Bush to dictate to the states how we run our school systems and what kind of welfare programs to have, we need to resist attempts to tell states how to deal with guns beyond existing federal law and fixing a few loopholes and problems.
You would think one candidate would invest the time and effort to at least study the positions of another candidate before talking about them. More and more, this is becoming not the case in this campaign. It is becoming less “I want to win, and here’s why I should” and more “I don’t want you to win, and I’ll say whatever I need to say to ensure that you don’t.”